Executive action

“In using whatever means necessary to stem the attack against South Korea, the government of Harry Truman unquestionably acted in the best interests of the United States and of the world. But characteristically, that government took action in a manner that could only make later trouble. As with every major policy decision that Administration had made, it was announced to the public only after the decision was irrevocable. With the orders already speeding to Tokyo, Truman called in the balance of the Cabinet, the Vice-President, congressional leaders of both parties, and told them what he had done. In effect, Truman had engaged the nation in war by executive action. Some of the leaders were understandably shaken. In the afternoon [of June 30, 1950], President Truman issued a terse statement to the press, terming the Korean venture a ‘police action.’ Something new had happened. The United States had gone to war, not under enemy attack, nor to protect the lives and property of American citizens. Nor was the action taken in crusading spirit, as in World Wars I and II, to save the world. The American people had entered a war, not by the roaring demand of Congress—which alone could constitutionally declare a state of war—or the public, but by executive action.” – T. E. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

Stormy weather

“(1) How can a material thing (a mechanism?) be correctly said to reason, to have reasons, to act on reasons? (2) How can the unique four-dimensional non-branching world-worm that comprises all that has happened and will happen admit of a notion of possibilities that are not actualities? What does an opportunity look like when the world is viewed sub specie aeternitatis? (3) How can a person be the author of decisions and not merely the locus of causal summation for external influences? (4) How do we make sense of the intuition that an agent can only be responsible if he could have done otherwise? (5) How can we intelligibly describe the relevant mental history of the truly culpable agent—the villain or rational cheat with no excuses?” – Daniel Dennett, Brainstorms

Better that way

“I no longer wanted any buddies. Afraid I’d lose them. If I liked someone, I believed he’d get killed. Who needed the additional trauma? I sure as hell didn’t. If you get killed, I don’t know you and I don’t care. You’re just another number, another rifle—who cares. New people: ‘What’s your name? How ya doin’?’ But nothing more. Don’t tell me your hopes and dreams. You’re going to get killed and I don’t want to know you, think about you, remember you.” – Private First Class Doug Michaud, Headquarters & Service Company, First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

A bird in the hand

“I remember the bitter cold and the snow and never being warm. I remember always being hungry, never having enough rations or being able to find any food. I remember the chicken my buddy found, killed, and gutted. I remember how small and skinny it was and how I carried that chicken in my field pack for three days before getting a chance to eat it. We got these tankers to give us some oleo. We fried the chicken in my helmet and shared it with four other guys. I can still see all the fires and hear the explosions from the ammo dumps that were being destroyed so they would not fall into the enemy’s hands. Everything, including supplies and vehicles that could not be gotten out, were blown up, set on fire, or destroyed. Rice fields were set on fire. When the rice caught fire, it popped. Guys were always running into the fields and grabbing handfuls of popped rice.” – Corporal Fred Duve, A Company, Seventh Cavalry Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Turning to the hard work

“Perhaps some people believe that equality requires a strictly proportional number of doctors, lawyers and poets from every ethnic group. More to the point, it requires addressing the huge disparity in medical and educational dollars spent on fortunate and unfortunate children.” – George Scialabba, “In Defense of Elitism”

Brothers in arms

“That night I had the first watch. It was bitterly cold. Toward Hagaru-ri I heard the thump of artillery and saw flashes from exploding shells. I became very depressed. There were snow-covered hills all around and the wind bit into me. . . . When my watch was up I woke my buddy. ‘Anything happen?’ ‘Not yet.’ I climbed into my sleeping bag. For a while I stared at the stars. Around 3:00 a.m. I woke up. The moon had risen and lit up the valley. . . .  I thought about grade school, how we children had been asked to contribute a quarter to help a baby in a Christian mission in war-torn China. My mom had given me a dollar to contribute. I wondered if one of those babies who had grown up waited now in the gully across the valley to kill me.” – Private First Class Paul Martin, Reconnaissance Company, First Marine Division (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Advancing in the other direction

“In the morning casualties lay all over the place. We dragged the dead down the slope like you would deer—slipped a rope around their boots and dragged. At the road the bodies were stacked in six-bys. Word was passed we were going to fall back. I believe those were the orders—‘fall back,’ not ‘retreat.’ Marines were dependable. God-damn, you want something done, you send the Marines. They got it done. All of a sudden we learned we were going to fall back. I cried. I cried. I couldn’t believe it.” – Private First Class Doug Michaud, Headquarters & Service Company, First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Praise the Lord and pass the frozen gravy

“It was very, very late when we got back to the company and found the field kitchen there preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was actually the day after Thanksgiving, but no one minded. We were served turkey and all the things that go with it on tin trays, just like aboard ship. Darker than pitch. We turned on the lights of jeeps and stood or sat on the hoods of the vehicles and ate our meal. I didn’t give a good-sized damn because it was food and we hadn’t had honest-to-God food in a long, long time. You had to eat fast because everything was turning cold. The gravy and then the mashed potatoes froze first. The inside of the turkey was still warm. Boy, you ate fast. And all the time the snipers were shooting at us.” – Hospitalman Third Class William Davis, Company B, Seventh Marine Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

There were no re-takes, either

“Believe me, sleeping in foxholes in a drizzling rain, cold and waiting to attack, dodging bullets, and going for three or four days with one small meal is not as romantic as the movies make out.” – Private First Class James Cardinal, I Company, 5th Cavalry Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

How to make an anti-communist

“The Communists gathered together all the opposition leaders, those friendly to America, and beat them terribly. Then they tied their hands behind their backs and shot them. More than fifty lay all over a small field in front of a school. When I got there relatives were claiming the dead and washing and cleaning and wrapping the bodies. That was the saddest part of it, mothers, wives, and children crying and screaming. The sight of death doesn’t bother me anymore, but to see the women crying made me feel very bad. You can believe everything you read in American papers about how miserable the Communist leaders treat the people behind the Iron Curtain. If any American Communist ever tells me when I get home that America was the aggressor in this war I think I’ll kill him on the spot.” – Private First Class James Cardinal, I Company, 5th Cavalry Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Priorities

“Much time was spent bullshitting. Talk was of home. We did not have any idea what [General] MacArthur was going to do next and we didn’t care. Food had top priority in our bull sessions. We smoked like fiends. Surprisingly, some of the conversations turned to sex. Up to then the only sexual references I’d heard were those obscenities hurled at the enemy. Everyone was too drained emotionally and physically to have a sex drive, much less talk about it. On the [38th] Parallel, with prospects of Japan, home, and safety, came the stories—stories of seductions, conquests, Japanese girlfriends, hometown sweethearts. While we waited to find out what would happen next, some wonderful events reminded us of home: sleeping in a bed with sheets, having a roof overhead, sitting on a stool, and defecating in a bathroom. I thought to myself, When I get home I’ll never bitch about another thing for the rest of my life. Whatever years my Creator has left for me I will consider bonus time. Never again will I ever be afraid.” Private First Class Leonard Korgie, G Company, 21st Infantry Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Mr. Fix-It

“Gender roles are often a predominant factor during fire and explosion incidents. Research indicates, for example, that women are more likely to report a fire or explosion immediately, while their male counterparts may delay reporting the incident, opting rather to engage in suppression or other mitigation efforts.” – “Roles and Norms,” Sec. 10.3.2.4.2, NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations (2011 Edition)

Les fleurs du mal

“The scene was in a wild ravine. First I saw piles of brightly colored silk gowns and black conical hats. Many of the corpses also appeared to wear Western-style clothing. In these mounds of ruffled clothing, I could also see parts of bodies, a head here, an arm there. While the company was somewhere between Seoul and Munsan-ni, word had been passed that we should divert several miles east of the main highway and check out reports of a massacre. The company had entered a hilly wilderness area. Even before we arrived at the designated location, we knew something terrible had taken place from the horrible stench of decaying human bodies that polluted the breeze. I learned later that an estimated 200 civilians were executed at this site. Someone found out many of the murdered were professional and business people, educators, artists, politicians, civil servants. The dead appeared to include entire families, from children to the very aged.” – Private First Class Victor Fox, I Company, 5th Cavalry Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Suffer the children

“I recall one day finding this little girl who couldn’t have been more than eight, trodding down the road crying hard. In her hands she carried a rusty tin of water. We tried to stop her because she was entering a dangerous area. She tried to get away from us; her screaming broke our hearts. . . . Everyone in war suffers. Children, however, suffer the most. They don’t understand. Try explaining it to a child. They are terrified, dirty, and hungry. . . . Mile after mile, the convoy drove north. . . . I remembered how anxious I was to get to Korea. I was eighteen and couldn’t wait to see combat. That lasted until the first firefight. Afterward it was, Please, God, don’t let me get hurt. If I do, please let it be small, something that will get me home in one piece.” – Corporal Mario Sorrentino, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

The answer is, ‘Because.’

“We begged the wounded lad to our front to hang on until morning when we’d be able to take him off the hill. With the first gray light the man lay quiet, then he was still. I lay there helpless, numb, sick clear through. I asked God in his infinite mercy, ‘Why so long?’ The man died a little boy, wanting his mother, crying for her, asking for his God. That night has left a long, deep scar.” – Captain Norman Allen, I Company, 5th Cavalry Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

A face of battle

“Within a few moments I, too, was hit, first in the right arm, then in the chest. It felt as though I’d been hit in the chest by a sledgehammer. I could not breathe. Somehow, I gasped for air and lay panting until the initial shock wore off. To this day I remember the pain and horror of those moments. Our squad was pinned down and couldn’t move. The gunner and I kept screaming for the corpsman, but he couldn’t get through. Both of us lay in an exposed position. The North Koreans who shot us knew that we were alive and that they could pick off any Marine coming to our aid. We lay there for what seemed like an eternity. My breathing became more difficult because my chest was filling with blood. After what must have been a few hours, Cpl. Frank Brennan and Pfc. Mark Valetta from one of the rifle platoons crawled to us with a blanket. The gunner was bleeding heavily from the mouth but still hanging on. Using the blanket as a stretcher, they moved him first, and came under heavy fire. The gunner was hit again, this time a round grazed his head. I passed out. The next thing I knew, it was night. I was still out in the open. At this point I went through my second horror of the day [and] came under heavy artillery bombardment. . . . I was right in the middle of it. The pain was unbearable and I couldn’t move. I passed out. When I came to, the ground around me was erupting, and bricks and steel were falling around me. Miraculously, I was not hit. I passed out again. When I came to again, the sun was up, and staring at me in disbelief were four South Korean boys. Around me I noticed several dead North Korean soldiers. The boys gently placed me on a straw mat and carried me back to the company CP.” – Private First Class Joseph Saluzzi, D Company, 7th Marine Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

The Wrath of God

“I was up on a hill that day at a machine-gun position with a master sergeant named Barber. We saw this long procession of people coming toward our line. I said to Barber, ‘What the devil is happening here?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.’ So I said, ‘I’ll go and see.’ I went down and found that this was a group of about 100 civilians, all carrying shovels and picks, being escorted by South Korean officers and men. They were being taken to some place where, after digging their own graves, they were going to be executed. They were people who were alleged to have supported the enemy in the city. This was civil war, which is very unlike any other war. There were kids there, some no older than eight, who were going to be shot because they had carried messages for the North Koreans for a stick of gum. Pregnant women were going to be shot; so were old men, ignorant of the issues. All these people were going to be murdered. When the South Korean in charge of the group saw me come down, he stopped—probably thought I was a Marine line officer. Anyway, they soon saw the cross and knew I was a chaplain. I said, ‘You cannot advance any farther until the Marine CO comes down and authorizes it. You must stay here.’ The South Korean captain in charge said, ‘I operate under my own orders, and we are planning to execute these people.’ I pointed out Sergeant Barber’s machine gun and said, ‘Do not move. It is very dangerous if you do.’ ” – Chaplain Glyn Jones, United States Navy (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Last rites

“At this time the kid next to me got hit in the chest. I rolled him over and cut open his jacket looking for the bullet wound. A slug had gone right through his lung, in the front, out the back. There were no corpsmen up to us yet. The kid began to wheeze and I knew his lung had collapsed. I spat on both my hands, then placed one on the entry wound and the other on the exit hole. After a few minutes of holding him like this, he started breathing better. He was still conscious. I asked him if I could do anything more for him. A corpsman came up and began bandaging his wounds. ‘I don’t know whether he’s gonna make it.’ The sun began to go down and the shadows grew longer. The kid whispered, ‘Would you read to me out of my Bible?’ Fox Company was still fighting across the road. We were pinned down. I read to him from his Bible.” – Private First Class Doug Koch, D Company, 5th Marine Regiment (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Death and transfiguration

“I motioned for him to get up and put on his shirt. He gestured he would like his cigarettes. I nodded. After he lit one I marched him to the rear where I met the South Korean police detachment that was assigned to the brigade. To a police sergeant I explained I had orders to have the old man shot and that I needed someone to do the job. The sergeant selected a young man not much older than I who spoke English. The young policeman, the old man, and I walked along the road. I was looking for a suitable place to hold the execution. I noticed the policeman was unarmed. I figured I’d let him use my carbine. I found a spot by a shallow river that afforded the privacy I was looking for. We moved down off the road and walked to the near-dry riverbed. The old man asked if he could wash his hands. The policeman translated. I nodded. The old man stood up. He shook his wet hands to dry them. He still didn’t know he was going to be shot. I motioned for him to walk on. About twenty-five feet away he stopped and turned. Why weren’t we behind him? Was he free to go? I offered my carbine to the policeman. He pushed the weapon away and backed off. In broken English he told me he didn’t know how to use it. His voice was shrill. I yelled at him to take it. At this, the old mean realized what was going to happen. ‘No! No!’ he pleaded in Korean. The policeman backed away. I shouted some more. The old man began to cry. Falling to his knees he clasped his hands as if he was praying. Between sobs he continued to plead for his life. Something had to be done. I ordered the old man to stand up. He did. I shot him twice. He fell like a stone.” – Unidentified American corporal, 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

Alternative facts

“In the late fall of 1961, [President] Kennedy decided to up the ante in the ongoing but still relatively low-key guerilla war in Vietnam. At the time there were only six hundred American advisers in South Vietnam. His was the most dangerous of moves geopolitically. even if at first it was a limited commitment of advisory and support troops, totaling perhaps some seventeen thousand additional Americans by early 1963. The Kennedy escalation meant that even if the commitment was in the beginning relatively small, nonetheless the flag had been planted ever more deeply and planted in a country and a war where the United States did not by itself control the dynamic and where the forces gathering against the American proxy were driven by a deep historic dynamic. . . . In addition, the Kennedy administration had done something extremely dangerous when it increased the larger mission to Vietnam; it corrupted the truth to suit its political needs . . .  it needed ever greater results, for appearances were everything, and it needed them faster. But those results were not forthcoming, because the policy never worked. Never. Therefore, to compensate for the failure to produce the desired results in the field, the Kennedy administration soon created something quite extraordinary—a giant lying machine . . . that not only systematically rejected all pessimistic reports from the field, and punished those who tried to tell the truth, but created its own illusion of victories and successes, victories and successes that never existed.” – David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter

Just wait until the next one

“Perhaps all wars are in some way or another the product of miscalculations. But Korea was a place where almost every key decision on both sides turned on a miscalculation . . . . in the single greatest miscalculation of the war, MacArthur decided to go all the way to the Yalu because he was sure the Chinese would not come in . . . . Mao believed that the political purity and revolutionary spirit of his men greatly outweighed America’s superior weaponry (and its corrupt capitalist soul) and so, after an initial great triumph in the far North, had pushed his troops too far south, taking horrendous losses in the process. . . . Chinese entry into the war had a profound and long-lasting effect on how Americans looked at the issue of national security. It gave the utmost push forward to the vision embodied in NSC 68. It greatly increased the Pentagon’s influence and helped convert the country toward far more of a national security state than it had previously been, so increasing the forces driving that dynamic that in ten years Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell speech as president, would warn of a ‘military-industrial complex.’ ” – David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter